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Why Do I Have Swollen Gums With Braces?

By May 28, 2021October 17th, 2023Orthodontics
swollen gums with braces and smiling

You’re in braces treatment, you check out your smile in the mirror, and you notice your gums look red, inflamed, and swollen. Is it par for the course during orthodontic treatment or is it a sign of an oral health issue that needs to be addressed? To give you peace of mind and help you determine what’s normal and what isn’t, our Juneau, AK, Bothell, Monroe, Mill Creek, and Everett, WA orthodontist is sharing everything you need to know about braces and your gums. 

In this post, we’ll cover:

  • The causes of red, irritated, and/or swollen gums with braces
  • Ways to deal with irritated gums from braces
  • General tips for how to get healthy gums with braces
  • A note on braces and periodontal health 

Why Do I Have Red, Irritated, and/or Swollen Gums With Braces?

There are a number of culprits that could be behind irritated, swollen, big gums with braces, including:

Lack of stimulation

One of the main culprits of swollen gums during braces has to do with food. What does food have to do with swollen gums during braces? Well, imagine eating without braces.  Every time you chew on food, the food naturally rubs against the outside of the teeth, as well as the gums. This gently massages your gums, stimulating them and keeping them from getting swollen. Once you are in braces, however, the braces and wires stop any food from getting near the gums, and this natural stimulation is gone. If you are not stimulating the gums with your toothbrush during your orthodontic treatment, they will swell up automatically.

To prevent this from happening, use your toothbrush and gently massage the gums, as well as the part of the teeth between the gums and the braces. This will keep your gums from getting swollen and also help prevent cavities from happening between the braces and the gums, which is the most common area for them to occur.

Braces Irritation

The hardware from braces can irritate your cheeks and sometimes your gums. At the start of your treatment, your mouth isn’t used to having brackets and wires in it and the different parts of your braces may rub against the soft tissues of your mouth, leading to discomfort. 

These soft tissues will “toughen up” once you get acclimated to your appliance. This means gum irritation from braces is short-lived and generally resolves itself within a few weeks. If the problem does disappear once you’re used to your braces, then irritated, swollen gums are not a sign of a more serious issue. 

Food Particles Stuck in Your Braces 

Your braces brackets and wires are prone to trapping pieces of food. If you get food caught around your braces, between your teeth, or under the gumline, it can result in swollen, inflamed gums (popcorn kernels are a notorious offender!). Once the food is dislodged, any redness, swelling, or irritation should subside. 

Gum Disease

Not only do braces trap food particles, they also give bacteria and plaque more places to hide. Practicing excellent oral hygiene is the key to eliminating plaque and keeping your gums healthy with braces. If you have poor oral hygiene during your treatment and you don’t consistently remove plaque from around your gumline, it increases your risk for gum disease. 

What is Gum Disease?

What is gum disease? Gum disease, technically called periodontal disease, is when the toxins produced by plaque cause inflammation and infection in the periodontal tissues around the teeth. 

In its earliest stages, periodontal disease is known as gingivitis. Gingivitis is reversible with proper treatment and homecare. If not addressed, gingivitis can advance into periodontitis, the more severe form of gum disease. Periodontitis, which causes bone loss and, in extreme cases, tooth loss, can’t be cured but it can be managed.

Signs of Gum Disease

If you persistently have inflamed, swollen gums with braces or experience bleeding gums when brushing and flossing, it’s probably not simply from lack of stimulation of the gums, and could be gingivitis. Other signs of gingivitis include bad breath and loose teeth. 

Causes of Gingivitis

While poor oral hygiene is the leading cause of gingivitis-related red, swollen, big gums with braces, the following can also make you more susceptible to gingivitis:

  • Pregnancy hormones
  • Diabetes
  • Using tobacco products
  • Broken restorations or missing fillings
  • Certain medications 

Gingival Enlargement

Occasionally, if you suddenly seem to have big gums with braces or it looks like your gums are growing over your braces, it could be due to gingival enlargement, also known as gingival hyperplasia or hypertrophy. Gingival enlargement is an abnormal overgrowth of gum tissue that can be caused by certain medications, medical conditions, a rare hereditary condition, or inflammation from plaque build-up. 

If you do suspect you have large, inflamed gums with braces due to gingival enlargement, schedule a visit with your general dentist. They’ll be able to determine the reason for the problem and recommend the ideal course of action. 

How to Get Rid of Swollen Gums With Braces

As for how to get rid of swollen gums with braces, there are a number of things you can do right off the bat to deal with acute inflammation, irritation and swelling, such as:

  • Gently brush and massage the inflamed gum tissue, right along the border of the gums and teeth. If you imagine the middle of the bristles of your toothbrush, keep the middle of the toothbrush right on the border of your gums and teeth.
  • Gently floss and then brush your teeth. If a food particle is stuck and causing inflamed gums with braces, freeing it should do the trick.
  • Create a saltwater rinse by mixing ½ teaspoon of salt with eight ounces of warm water. Swish the solution around in your mouth and then spit it out. You can do this several times a day until inflammation goes down. 
  • For lip, tongue or gum irritation from braces that are rubbing against the soft tissues of your mouth, first, gently dry the parts of your appliance that are bothering you. Then, break off a small piece of orthodontic relief wax, roll it in between your fingers to warm it up, and place it on your braces.
  • Ask Dr. Chan which of the different types of mouthwash you can use to alleviate discomfort, fight plaque, and keep your gums healthy. For many patients, an antibacterial mouthwash like Colgate® Peroxyl® will quickly eliminate pain, infection, and irritation. Swish with the mouthwash for one minute and then spit it out after brushing your teeth. You can use it several times a day. 
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever (whatever you’d normally take for a headache) if needed. 

General Tips for How to Get Healthy Gums with Braces

We know everyone wants to know how to get healthy gums with braces fast. While the above tips are ideal for dealing with acute discomfort and swelling, the following are the steps you’ll want to take for long-term oral health:

  • Floss with braces once daily using an orthodontic flosser or regular dental floss and a floss threader. 
  • Brush your teeth and gums with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste in the morning, after meals and snacks, and before bed.
  • If you forget your toothbrush and you’re not at home, rinse your mouth out really well with water after eating.
  • Consider a waterpik for braces. While using a waterpik, or water flosser, doesn’t take the place of regular flossing and is an extra step in your oral hygiene routine, when it comes to how to get healthy gums with braces fast, it’s an excellent solution. Breaking out your water flosser once a day will banish any lingering plaque, stimulate the gums, and dislodge food. 
  • Use an interdental brush (proxy brush) to clean around your brackets and get into tight spaces. The more effectively you remove plaque, the less likely you’ll be to develop gingivitis.
  • Use mouthwash after brushing. As we said above, there are different types of mouthwash that can benefit braces patients. An antibacterial mouthwash will zap bacteria and keep gums healthy, while a fluoride mouthwash is ideal for strengthening enamel and preventing cavities. Regardless of the type of mouthwash you choose, the act of swishing it around will help remove any plaque and food you may have missed when brushing and flossing.
  • Eat a well-rounded diet filled with foods that strengthen the teeth and gums. Enjoy simple starches and sugary drinks and treats in moderation, as the bacteria in the mouth feed on sugars and starches. Instead, opt for plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy products (or foods high in calcium if you don’t eat dairy), healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. 
  • Continue visiting your general dentist once every six months, or as often as they recommend, for exams and cleanings throughout your braces treatment. Your dentist will make sure your gums are healthy and be able to catch issues early on while they’re easier to treat. 

A Note on Braces and Periodontal Health

Most causes of irritated, swollen gums with braces are temporary. In fact, in the long run, braces treatment will improve the health of your gums. Straight teeth are easier to effectively brush and floss, which reduces your risk of gum disease. Additionally, when teeth are properly aligned and your bite is strong and stable, it prevents undue pressure on the bone and gum tissue, bolstering periodontal health. 

Can braces help gum recession? While braces can’t cure or treat gum recession, braces can help gum recession on a cosmetic level and play a part in stopping it from getting worse. Bringing the teeth into alignment with braces will make recession appear less visible and, when combined with a solid oral hygiene routine, will give you the amazing oral health you deserve. 

We’re Here to Help!

If you’re concerned about swollen gums with braces, give us a call or talk with Dr. Chan at your next appointment. He can evaluate your gums and let you know what steps to take to reduce swelling and improve your periodontal health. 

If you haven’t started treatment and you’re interested in braces or Invisalign® in Everett, Bothell, Monroe or Mill Creek, WA or Juneau, AK, schedule a complimentary consultation at Richard Chan Orthodontics today!

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